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Merseyside History, Liverpool Docks

THE building of Liverpool Docks was spread nearly over two and a half centuries if we consider that Royal Seaforth Dock (to the left of Gladstone Dock) was not completed until 1974.
The story of Liverpool really starts at end of the eighteenth century thanks to the docks.  By then Liverpool was already the only port to have a complete dock system. This marked the beginning of the transformation of a small town into a metropolis.  This information that follows covers the rise of the docks and it's development up to modem day.    With out the docks Liverpool would not be what it is today and would still be a small township. 

Up to the 18th century

The need for docks in Liverpool was felt soon in the eighteenth century, as the traffic in the port became more and more heavy and concentrated. At this time, just after the English Civil War, trade developed fast and far towards the new colonies and North America. More and more cargoes arrived to unload their valuable stocks (the tonnage of shipping entering Liverpool had increased by 23% between 1709 and 1716) but they could not lie safely afloat. Indeed ships were either beached on the shore or anchored out in the river and their cargoes were ferried ashore in barges, which was fine as long as ships remained small. The work was made harder by the Mersey's fast tidal current and a high rise and fall in the tides.

That is why a first safe dock was opened in 1715, in the mouth of the Pool, a tidal creek to the south of the town. This dock was known later as the Old Dock but became the today's Canning Dock. At this time the tonnage of shipping inward was 18,800 and 18,400 outward. 

From 1720 and all along the eighteenth century, Liverpool played a leading role on a national and international scale: as a link with the hinterland in order to facilitate the transport of the goods (Cheshire salt, Lancashire coal and textiles, Staffordshire pottery, Birmingham metal) and as an exporter to the whole of the known world.

In 1753, the second dock, Salthouse was opened. The tonnage had grown to 29,100 inward and 31,800 outward. With the Canning Dock, they received some rebuilding in the 1840s to fit them with for use the new Albert Dock but they have a retained some things of their eighteenth century origins.
Then Georges Dock opened in 1771. At the start of the twentieth century, he site has been used to build the three office buildings at the Pier Head (the Liver, Cunard and Dock Office buildings).

By 1800 Liverpool was the second port of the kingdom and its docks were a tourist attraction. The closeness, both physically and administratively, of the docks to the town greatly contributed to their success.

Period Dock  Year of building

Tonnage of shipping Inward

Tonnage of shipping outward

1715s Old Dock 1715 18,88 18,400
1750s Salthouse 1753 59,700 73,400
1770s Georges Dock 1771 29,100 31,800

19th century

This century saw radical developments, which implied an even more quick growth in the port. Trade traffic inwards reached 1,2 million tons in 1825, 4,7 million in 1865 and by 1900 it had risen to 12,4 million.

Princes Dock opened in 1821 and Clarence Dock, intended only for steamers, in 1830.
The Docks in between-Waterloo, Victoria, Trafalgar- were all opened between 1834 and 1836.

Around the mid-century, the docks from Canada Dock to Collingwood Dock were built by Liverpool's most eminent dock engineer, Jesse Hartley (1780-1860), who was responsible for more than doubling the dock accommodation between 1824 and 1860. Since, this block of docks has been rebuilt: this process led to the merger of the Langton and Canada entrances into one large lock and the rebuilding of Canada and Huskisson Docks with three branch docks.

The docks from Hormby to Langton Docks were part of a large extension opening in stages between 1879 and 1884.

Rapidly, the need to protect the valuable cargoes of the ships was felt and high walls were built, giving the appearance of fortification. However, as they were expensive to build, a lot of docks remained open.

20th century

This century is really the one of the decline. The competition of other developing ports such as Birkenhead, Manchester, the change of the trade market and the improvement of the technology affected the port's activities and traffic. It was heavily involved during both World War and, as being a strategic point of food and war supplies, suffered important damages, especially during the Blitz (1941) and the Battle of the Atlantic (39-45).

Today, a lot of the old docks have been transformed and redeveloped for new uses, such as tourism, shopping, housing, and industry. The main changes started in 1981, when Merseyside Development Corporation was charged to create a new centre of activities in all the Liverpool's area along the river Mersey, made up of derelict buildings and wasteland
(see Liverpool Garden Festival - hyperlink to Garden Festival page). Canning and Salthouse Docks were dredged, the riverside landscaped. The massive Albert Docks are today a massive tourist attraction with museums, shops, restaurants and a nice view on the waterfront. The Albert Dock Traffic Office, after having been a temple of commerce in the eighteenth century, has become the high-tech news studio for Granada Television.    

Click on for here information about the Seaforth Royal Seaforth Dock.

Related books

BROOKS, Collin (1956) Grayson's of Liverpool: a history of Grayson, Rollo and Clover Docks Ltd. Liverpool: H. Young.
ISBN t3814140

COCKCROFT,
William R. (1992) The Albert Dock and Liverpool's historic waterfront. Market Drayton: SB Publication.

ISBN 1857700163


JARVIS,
Adrian (1999) Prince's Dock-a magnificent monument of mural art. Birkenhead: Merseyside Port Folios.

ISBN 09516129 05


JARVIS
, Adrian (1991) Liverpool Central Docks 1799-1905: an illustrated history. Stroud: Alan Sutton- National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside.
ISBN 0862997836

PEET
. Henry (1932) Thomas Steers: the engineer of Liverpool's first dock: a memoir. Frome: Buttler and Tanner.

ISBN w9312913

Sources

STAMMERS, Michael (1999) Images of England: Liverpool Docks. Stroud: Tempus Publishing Ltd.
ISBN 0752417126

RITCHIE-NOAKES, Nancy (1984) Liverpool's Historic Waterfront. Merseyside County Museums-Royal Commission on Historical Monument.

Useful Link

Diduknow.info - nuggets of knowledge for your noggin:-  www.diduknow.info/docks/index2.html 

Research conducted and written by Alexia Wodli.    Research conducted in 2004.

Mersey Reporter and Liverpool Reporter are Trade Marks of Patrick Trollope.